Turn, Turn, Turn (to Everything There Is a Season)

Knowledge Office

As I approach my birthday in August, I can’t help but think of all the changes and major life events that have happened along the way in the last twelve months:  my ex-husband nearly died of a massive heart attack last October; I left The Unquiet Library and my home in Georgia to take a new job at Cleveland Public Library in January; I survived my first real winter on Lake Erie and first foray into city living as a resident of downtown Cleveland; and I embraced a significant amount of valuable but at times, challenging, cognitive dissonance as I began to learn about the world of public libraries.  At some point, I would like to write more about the value of this cognitive dissonance from these experiences, but I will muse more on that at a later time in which I’ll reflect a little more deeply on the learning experiences of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange.

GO MOM!This summer has continued the trend of unexpected and significant changes:  on a positive note, I will be returning home this weekend to Georgia for good to take a position as a media specialist with the staff of the award winning media center at the innovative and fantastic Norcross High School   in Gwinnett County, a wonderful opportunity that makes my heart happy with excitement.  At the same time, though, my heart is also heavy as my mother has been diagnosed  this month with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer; the diagnosis was completely unexpected, and we’re all just now beginning to move beyond processing the initial shock and adjusting to the new reality of living with a diagnosis of cancer.  I am incredibly close to my mom, who is my best friend—I am thankful that I not only have the chance to continue co-learning with students and teachers in the world of K12 public schools, but I also can be in Georgia to support her and my family as we help mom in her battle against cancer.

My heart also hurts today because it is my last day working at Cleveland Public Library with two of the most phenomenal colleagues I could ever hope to know:  Tim Diamond and Anastasia Diamond-Ortiz of the Knowledge Office.   Our collaboration has been one of the richest learning experiences of my life, and I have no doubt we will continue to think, learn, and grow together even though we may be 700 miles apart.   I cannot find the words to capture the nuances of our professional and collective experiences, but it has been akin to harmonizing with people whose voices who complement yours while creating a larger sound that transcends you as an individual while making your voice even better.  They have become cherished friends who have been my sage guides in a whole new world and have given me new perspectives that have deepened my understanding about our profession.  I am indebted to both of them for their generosity, honesty, wisdom, grace, and support–they are both such ambassadors for this profession, and I am a better person for knowing them.  I would also be remiss if I did not express my respect and admiration of our archivist Anne Marie Wieland who has imbued my life with her rather awesome knowledge and brightened many a dreary winter day with beautiful fresh flowers.  Her research and work on the past work of children’s librarians at CPL has given me inspiration and insight about the work we do as contemporary librarians.

last dance

I am also thankful to each individual in Cleveland Public Library who has in some way made me feel welcome, asked thoughtful questions, and provided encouragement along the way these last seven months.  In addition, I am lucky that there have been additional gracious and gentle souls throughout the city of Cleveland and in northern Ohio who have extended a hospitality that I will not forget.  Of course, family and friends—both near and far—have been an anchor whenever I have felt homesick, struggled with adapting to a different climate, or struggled to be patient as I tried to connect dots and think deeply in my new learning environment.   While it was not always easy, I can honestly say that the time here has been a rich and important period of learning in my life both personally and professionally;  I feel incredibly lucky to have had these opportunities and to have walked this path (even when it required a heavy coat and snow boots!).

I hope the seeds I have planted about participatory learning, inquiry, critical literacy, and strategies for cultivating and supporting communities of learning within CPL and the larger communities throughout Cleveland will spur my colleagues to keep the conversation going.  I believe that a culture of questioning and thoughtful dialogue about ideas are crucial to the future of the library and the city of Cleveland.  I encourage each colleague to ask the questions that are sometimes difficult to contemplate but essential to help us identify our challenges and then innovate with meaningful possibilities and action.  I firmly believe that CPL is brimming with people who have the creativity, capacity, and the will to do this kind of work that is so essential for providing additional and diverse points of participation for the people of Cleveland and to ground our work in the needs of our communities.

I now look homeward to my native Georgia with a heartfelt commitment to supporting my family and to contributing as a co-learner in meaningful ways to my new learning community at Norcross High School.  Like Emily Dickinson, I will continue to strive to dwell in the possibilities and will do so with hope, faith, love, and humility knowing that indeed there is a time and purpose in all things.

Smile Because It Happened: An Ethnographic Project Looking at Institutional Culture Change and Transforming Communities (And Why Librarians Should Pay Attention)

As many of you have followed my work for some time know, I have been and continue to be a fan of the work of Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist, and his students.  This year’s cohort of Digital Ethnography students created a moving and powerful documentary, “Smile Because It Happened”,  of their exploration of community at the Meadowlark Hills retirement community.  You can read more of the backstory of the project in this blog post, but after watching the video this morning, I could not help but think about what libraries (academic, public, school) might glean from this work:

  • Ethnography as a powerful research methodology for libraries (an ongoing interest for me rooted in my Language and Literacy studies from my days at The University of Georgia)
  • The value and power of intergenerational learning
  • Narrative and real world stories from our community members and what we can learn we when really listen.
  • Deep and meaningful engagement with community—this work clearly goes beyond surface levels surveys and town hall meetings
  • Real conversations for learning and understanding
  • Thinking about what we as libraries and librarians have to learn from our communities, not just what we have to teach them
  • What are catalysts for institutional change that can be transformative and help communities thrive?  How do communities transform libraries?  What if libraries embedded themselves in the heart of a community in the way these students did, and what powerful insights might we learn from that as an ongoing experience?

These initial reactions resonate with the tremendous and intense amount of observing, thinking, reflecting, and questioning I’ve engaged in the last seven months.   While I’ve been fairly reticent on the blog this year, I’ll be saying more about that process and experience in the next few weeks and how that is informing my current conceptualizations of libraries, learning, and life, but for now, I’d encourage you to take time to watch the documentary and consider your own responses.  Given the tremendous amount of interest and initiatives in libraries and communities in librarianship right now, I think work like this of Wesch and his students provide us an alternate lens for thinking about the possibilities of this work.

ALAO Distance Learning Interest Group and Instruction Interest Group Spring Workshop 2013– Making Noise in the Library: Advocating for Our Students and Our Libraries

ALAO SwagMany thanks to the ALAO Distance Learning Interest Group and Instruction Interest Group for inviting me to be part of a day of conversation and learning about advocating for our students, student learning, and libraries!  I’m lucky enough to have been part of an ALAO  (Academic Library Association of Ohio) learning event twice within a year, and I appreciate how they inspire and inform my thinking.  I’m including two pieces of content in this post that I crafted and facilitated for today’s day of learning and sharing:

1. Morning Keynote:  Moving from Nice to Necessary: Academic Libraries and Communities Collaboratively Composing Participatory Practices of Learning

PDF:  Moving from Nice to Necessary: Academic Libraries and Communities Collaboratively Composing Participatory Practices of Learning

2.  Afternoon Small to Large Group Conversation:  Assessing Student Learning –we met in small groups to discuss conversation points about assessing student learning and then shared our thinking as a large group.  I invite you to keep the conversation going in this public Google Document where I gathered our large group responses and invite you to contribute your thoughts/experiences/questions.  

“Teens and the Future of Libraries: Sharing Best Practices” Webinar Archives and My Questions for Thinking


Today I was part of the panel for the final webinar, “Teens and the Future of Libraries:  Sharing Best Practices,” in the collaborative month long series of conversations about  Teens and the Future of Libraries facilitated by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) and Connected Learning TV, an initiative of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

A Google Document with highlights from today’s conversation as well as a PDF of the Livestream Chat transcript will be available soon on the webinar page.  You can also watch the video archive of today’s panel discussion by clicking here.  I’m including below some of my talking points I included at the beginning of the conversation as well as a few that didn’t make the panel discussion but that relate to the larger conversation.

Many thanks to Jon Barilone, the “glue” who brings everything together, all the panelists and our host Jack Martin, and everyone who participated in the chat and/or Twitter conversation.

My Thinking and Wondering Aloud

I’d like to begin framing my thoughts and questions with a short story about something I observed last week.  Last week marked the beginning of the filming of Captain America 2 here in downtown Cleveland.  While I had heard a good bit of buzz and excitement about the filming and knew they would be shooting right behind our library, I was not particularly pumped up since I’m not into action/adventure movies.  However, I found myself more than fascinated and intrigued by what I saw once the filming began.  I was amazed at the army of people it took to make just one small filming sequence happen as well as the diversity of their talents.  I also noted they would shoot the same film sequence over and over–sometimes from the seemingly exact same angle, but at other times, from a completely different vantage point.  Assorted cameras and equipment were used to capture the shots from as many perspectives as possible.  By the end of the week, I found myself wanting to be an embedded librarian on a movie set!

You might be wondering what the filming of Captain America 2 has to do with libraries.  Much like our work as a profession at large–a bigger team of different members (as librarians, mentors, teens/patrons/communities we serve, our teens) all inform the bigger conversation with multiple perspectives as we explore questions/themes and add to this story of learning and libraries.  As I think about what practices of impact look like in libraries trying to embrace a model of connected learning, I find it helpful to take an inquiry stance on digital literacy and to look at our work through a lens of participatory learning and culture.  As I look back over the conversations from the webinars over the last month and my own thinking about my work as a librarian, four sets of emerging questions emerge for me:

1.  What theoretical frameworks/lenses are we using to contextualize our work to inform our understanding of connected learning model and to go deeper with our conceptualization?   A lens of critical literacy (Freire, Bakhtin, bell hooks/ work of people like Lisa Delpit, Deborah Brandt, Shirley Brice Heath)  can help us think more about alternative interpretations what we see in our libraries.   When we think about teens leveraging social media for learning, civic engagement, building online identity/digital footprint, cultural capital—-how do we do so in a way that is reflective and looks at our work from multiple angles?  What are the social/cultural/dialogic threads to explore, and how do we identify them and pull those for closer examination?  What blind spots might we have as public youth librarians and school librarians?  What trends/patterns do we see in our learning communities that inform the ways digital literacy is accessed and leveraged across multiple boundaries/spaces of learning/work/play for teens?  What is visible?  What is not?  What are the gaps?  How do we make the invisible more visible?  Who is absent and why?  How do we better engage our communities at large as what Chris Brogan calls “trust agents”?  Who else can help us?  I worry that certain forms of discourse in the narrative of libraries and learning may get privileged and that others may be excluded if we don’t utilize a lens of critical literacy to help interpret the practices and structures of power.

I’m also wondering how we might engage a little more intentionally about the skills and processes we cultivate related to academic interests/needs.  The work of academic and school library colleagues inform my thinking about this piece of the puzzle as well as work by people like Wendy Drexler and her researched on networked students as learners.  I’d like for our conversations to move toward more specific processes such as appropriation, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment and evaluation, negotiation, and transmedia navigation and how we help learners leverage those processes in other contexts to sustain and grow their capacity to cultivate “playful” practices of creation, circulation, collaboration, and connecting and what those processes look like in participatory learning enviornements.

2.  What are our guiding pedagogical frameworks?  Learning outcomes?  Tools/strategies for assessing impact?  Qualitative/quantitative data? How do we keep learning (formal, informal) and people/human interaction/relationships at the center of what we do rather than becoming fixated on social media tools themselves; how do we better explore the ways they can either amplify learning opportunities OR how they may limit learning opportunities for others? What is empowering for one may not be for another–choices are important.

3.  Access is a starting point on a continuum but we must go beyond this starting point.  Issues of access may include:  A.  equity issues to content and learning opps as Mimi Ito has documented  as well as access to mentors/librarians/learning opportunities to grow capacity to utilize social media in ways that can help them (geographic barrier, funding issues for staffing and infrastructure, lack of innovative culture)  B.  filtered material, particularly in schools and the resistance teachers and librarians often get from IT directors who have more conservative interpretations of what CIPA and similar mandates require C.  access to a culture of learning that values and invites participation/provides opps for participation, collaborative knowledge building, multiple ways of knowing and participating.  These issues are happening against a backdrop of thinking about digital literacy in the context of Shirley Brice Heath’s work and that of others whose work reflects themes of critical literacy that showed how literacy is acquired, utilized, leveraged–how does the culture of the community impact opportunities for digital literacy?  How are those opportunities informed by economic, geographic factors AND community cultural discourse?  What gets valued? What gets discounted?

4.  Networking:  when we talk about cultviating networked learners (of any age), I think it’s hard to model that authentically if we don’t hone that capacity within ourselves.  I’m thinking about networking in three primary ways right now:

  • With our immediate communities (our colleagues, our community, our patrons)
  • As a profession, how might we think of ourselves as a larger learning community that is less siloed, and how might we cultivate more awareness of services/programming/educational opportunities  offered by our colleagues across different kinds of library spaces/types?   Who else has expertise we should tune into  and how are enlisting their help in this work we are doing?  How do we as professionals grow our own participatory literacy to be lifelong AND networked learners and more effective (and reflective) practitioners as well as leaders/ contributors to a culture of innovation in our library community?  How do position ourselves as co-learners with our teens, faculty, community mentors?    How do we nurture our colleagues at all points on the learning continuum? 
  • Partnerships between public and school librarians–how do we get beyond low hanging fruit (library cards, collection related aspects) to more fundamental partnerships to support common learning outcomes?  How are we supporting classroom teachers?  We both bring different kinds of expertise about learning and pedagogy to table–how do we harness and co-locate our expertise, translate that into action for our teens?  How do we acknowledge and honor differences in learning spaces without creating a binary or dichotomy that can be counterproductive to our collective work?

The roles of librarians are being remixed and re-interpreted by these challenges, issues, and lines of questions; in addition, the work we do will be more organic and strategic if we have the humility to truly listen to those we serve and engage in conversations.   Consequently, I think it is important that we acknowledge and honor the discomfort that often comes with the messiness of change.   As we forge forward (wherever we may be on the continuum) and think about innovation, I think adopting a discursive cycle of ideation, building and implementation, ongoing assessment, and reflection dovetails with the idea that theory informs practice and practice informs theory.   Looking at our work through these lenses and seeing ourselves as co-learners can help us be more inclusive in interpreting what we see (or don’t see) in our work and to better embrace these challenges as points of possibility.